Uprooted by WWII, a strange group of sick refugees quarantined by the Soviets in southern Poland perplexes an innocent Scottish doctor, but a lack of historical perspective soon puts him out of his depth: a curious, splitscreen debut from Edinburgh author Wallace.
It's no fault of Rob Watts, fresh from med school in Glasgow in the first winter after the war, that he's too nice and naïve for the grim work of screening refugees, first in a medical camp in Berlin under the direction of senior physician Arthur, a burly American with inscrutable designs. Rob makes a go of it, playing bridge in his off-hours and humoring Arthur, his roommate, who cries himself to sleep nightly. Yet when the American sends him to Poland, where in the cellars of a ruined estate a steady number of the ethnic Germans who occupy the refugee camp die mysterious, rapid, horrible deaths, Rob is completely baffled. The Soviet doctor at the camp, an Englishspeaking, cultured man, hopes to while away the hours playing chess with Rob as they study the disease, though Rob finds another diversion, in the supple young form of one of the refugees. When Arthur arrives on the scene with his crackpot intensity, however, he produces a startling hypothesis, which explains both the disease and the parallel plot involving a once prosperous German town and the devastating Thirty Years War of the 17th century: the refugees are directly linked to the story of The Pied Piper of Hamelin, and their deaths are the revisit of an ancient curse first set in motion at the end of that long war, almost 300 years before.
Unfortunately, with no evidence other than what Arthur, a less than reliable source, can offer, Wallace’s two plots don't connect, and poor Rob, a handwringing, pleasureseeking lightweight, has precious little to contribute whether they do or not.